Dir/scr: Christian Carion.France. 2005. 115mins
The miracle of aChristmas truce in the trenches of World War One is transformed into apolished, pan-European heartwarmer in Merry Christmas. Refreshinglytraditional in comparison with many competition titles, it places its faith inthe virtues of straightforward storytelling, handsome production values and atouching real life incident. It may seem very old-fashioned to some criticaltastes but there is genuine poignancy in its celebration of the way a sharedhumanity briefly transcended the horrors of war.
The film's main audience isprobably to be found amongst that elusive, older demographic who arenotoriously infrequent in their cinemagoing habits. Careful nurturing as aprestige item should draw an upscale European crowd that is steadily maintainedby word of mouth. It should also be able to rely on a lengthy seasonalafterlife in all ancillary markets.
The second feature fromChristian Carion, the director of Une Hirondelle A Fait Le Printemps, MerryChristmas successfully avoids the pitfalls of becoming a stodgy Europuddingand effectively dramatises a story that touched three of the nations who wentto war in 1914.
The early scene-setting isclunky and far from promising as we are methodically introduced to the keycharacters including French soldier Audebert (Guillaume Canet), Scottish priestPalmer (Gary Lewis) and Berlin Opera singer Nikolaus Sprink (Benno Furmann).All of them have family ties, home front responsibilities or loved ones whowill be abandoned as they heed the call to arms.
The film quickly gets intoits stride on the front line in France which is believable portrayed inwidescreen shots of mud-spattered locations and snow covered fields. Politicalleaders had promised the troops that the War would be resolved by Christmas. Itis now December, the chill of winter has entered their bones and everyone cansense this will be a long and bloody conflict. German high command acknowledgesthe season by dispatching 100,000 decorated trees to the front line.
When Christmas Eve comes,Sprink's lover Anna (Diane Kruger) arranges a pass for him to attend a recital.He takes her back to the trenches and when he begins singing, the Scots strikeup the bagpipes as an accompaniment. Soon, sworn enemies have strayed into noman's land, a truce is arranged and for a brief time the Germans, Scots andFrench set aside thoughts of war to spend Christmas together playing football,singing songs, burying the dead and savouring the moment.
Highly unlikely to standcomparison with the great films on World War One like All Quiet On TheWestern Front or Paths Of Glory, Merry Christmas still makesa compelling case for the argument that all war is senseless. The men hereeasily find a common ground that is dangerously subversive to their superiors.Palmer is ultimately replaced by a priest who preaches that it is God's willthat the troops kill German soldiers. German officer Horstmayer (Daniel Bruhl)eventually reveals why the war is so bitterly ironic for him.
It is all the human storiesand personal incidents that give the film texture and lend it an emotionalcharge that only the stony-hearted could possibly resist.
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